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African centered leadership-followership: foundational principles, precepts, and essential practices.


"You can't lead us if you don't love us; you can't save us if you don't serve us."

-Cornel West

This paper spotlights four inter-locking, synergistic and sociocentric practices that are cornerstones in the conceptual framework of African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) theory. They are Sovereignty--Maat restoration and Sankofa--Johari Sita installation. Before examining these precepts, principles, and practices, two textual usages must be addressed: (1) the hyphenation of leadership and followership and (2) the use of the adjective "African centered".

First, the hyphenation of leadership and followership is our way of textually elevating followers and equating their status with that of leaders. According to the ACL-F construct, which openly draws from Kemet (ancient Egypt), one of our classical African civilizations, neither seshemu (leader) nor shemsu (follower) is superior to the other; in fact, they are opposite sides of the same coin (Bass, 1995). In Western culture, however, the shemsu is often looked down upon as weak-willed and subservient destined to stand in the shadow of the omnipotent seshemu blindly following orders while the seshemu basks in the limelight and reaps major rewards. This is not the case with ACL-F.

In practice, ACL-F is a collegial, egalitarian partnership between leaders and their core followers with their roles frequently switching. Like Vishnu and Shiva, the cosmic dance team of Hindu mythology, leaders and followers are inseparable co-creators, always in motion, giving and receiving, pushing and pulling, leading and following. ACL-F agrees with leadership theorists Warren Bennis (1994) and Robert Kelley (1992) who view followers, in particular "effective" or "exemplary" followers, as more important to an organization's success than leaders. In the political arena, when in sync, followers and their leaders re-order social systems and bring forth new nations. In the African experience, followers and their leaders moving as one created the great West African empires of Ghana, Mali, Songhai and all the wonders gracing the African social universe.

Next we must address the use of the adjective "African centered", which distinguishes this school of leadership theory and practice from all others. By African centered, we mean, like Molefi Asante (2007), having the mind and the skills to interpret data, persons, and events from the standpoint of African agency. When this perspective is applied to the history of American leadership, for example, the role of an African American leader like Sojourner Truth or Frederick Douglass becomes central to a balanced study and understanding of 19th century American leadership history.

In addition, African centered in the African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) paradigm means deliberately and methodically researching indigenous African societies and their diasporic expressions for leadership-followership precepts, principles, practices, theories, patterns, motifs, icons, institutions, rituals and ceremonies we can adapt for contemporary usage.

The four processes discussed in this paper are both prerequisites to ACL-F and ACL-F action steps. More than just leadership with an African "flava", ACL-F seeks a radical re-ordering of Black leadership thought as a prelude to a radical reordering of the African World Community. These radical re-orderings, we believe, begin with the embrace of an African centered vocabulary, value system and worldview.

In summary, ACL-F is a school of pan African nationalist leadership training and development that selectively incorporates social principles, political concepts, cultural practices, kwk., * created by and used effectively in traditional African societies on the continent and in the Diaspora to maintain social cohesion, economic solvency, and politico-cultural sovereignty. The ideal African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) practitioners (intellectual maroons) have the will and the skill to create 21st century, sovereign, self-sustaining, democratic African villages (kilombos) as a prelude to creating a near sovereign, then in time a sovereign, democratic, communitarian, prosperous, peace-and-justice-filled, African nation (taifa) within what is now the United States of America. ([dagger])

Restoration of Sovereignty

The end goal of ACL-F in the United States is the restoration of African American sovereignty in cultural, political and economic affairs. The choice of the word "restoration" is strategic; it conveys the fact that our Ancestors had it--sovereignty--but they lost it and now we, their progeny, want it back. By sovereignty we mean self-determination, which is what political scientist Maulana Karenga (1997) calls Kujichagulia. That is, the right to dictate our own affairs in all realms of human activity without external coercion or manipulation. As a community of African people living in the United States, this is a right we have not fully enjoyed in over 375 years.

During the 220-year holocaust of English North American slavery, only small bands of self-emancipated Africans living in remote areas like the Everglades or the Great Dismal Swamp were able to regain (and maintain) their sovereignty. Known to English American history as Maroons (1), a major contributor to their success was their kilombo building skills. Kilombo is an Kimbundu word meaning an "encampment of warriors" brought from Angola to Brazil in the 16th century by African prisoners of war. (2)

It was their kilombo or village-building expertise that allowed Maroons to live as free human beings at a time when most Africans in the Americas were wearing chains. Of the millions of Africans who survived the Middle Passage, only the Maroons in their kilombos were able to recreate African village life and thus a degree of normalcy for their residents. Finally, kilombos by necessity were clandestine, fortified spaces, or what Kwame Nkrumah (1969) would call "liberated zones", where Maroon "freedom fighters", were extremely vigilant, and could live out their lives as sovereign human beings much like they were doing in West Africa, prior to kidnap and transport to the Americas.

The Maroons who established and maintained the legendary kilombo known as the Republic of Palmares--perhaps the most successful sovereign African nation in the history of the Americas--are foci of study for African centered leaders and followers throughout the Diaspora. Founded in 1600 in northeast Brazil in Alagoas state, Palmares at its height exercised sovereignty over a lush strip of highland real estate 120 miles long by 30 miles wide, watered by nine rivers. According to historian R. K. Kent (1979), Palmares was actually a confederation of 15 kilombos with Macaco serving as the capitol. Boasting a population in excess of 20,000 Maroons, Palmares maintained sovereignty keeping both Dutch and Portuguese enslavers at bay for over 90 years (Anderson, 1996; Reis, 2002; de Carvalho, 2007). (3) Hence, African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) theory considers Palmares the starting point for all serious discussion of Black nation building in 21st century America.

The African centered approach to seshemet (leadership) seeks to restore African American sovereignty by first restoring our Maroon tradition of kilombo construction, i.e., our tradition of building and maintaining self-sustaining, self-governing, sovereign, democratic communities. Here in the United States, historian Herbert Aptheker (1969) found evidence of 50 kilombos built between 1672 and 1864 by our Maroon ancestors. Using history as our guide, ACL-F also draws inspiration and example from the 50,000 Exodusters, who during the period 1880-1900, built more than 50 self-sustaining, self-governing, all-Africans towns and villages primarily in Oklahoma and Kansas. Perhaps the best-known Exoduster community is Langston, Oklahoma, the all-Black town located 100 miles west of Tulsa, Oklahoma named after Reconstruction era politician John Mercer Langston, the grand-uncle of poet-icon Langston Hughes (Bennett, 1988; Painter, 1992; Franklin & Moss, 1994; Rampersand, 2002).

Only ACL-F provides Black activists with the rationale, inspiration and skills to revive and then update our tradition of building sovereign villages. To achieve this end, ACL-F mandates a mental shift from what psychologist Julian Rotter (1966) calls an "external locus of control" to an "internal locus of control". Rotter's research convinced him that there are essentially two types of people and, we believe, two types of communities: Those who believe their fate is determined by powers outside of their control--they are said to have an external locus (location) of control--, and those who believe they are the architects of their destiny--they are said to have an internal locus of control.

African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F) teaches that as long as African Americans believe that a president, senator, governor, mayor or other power brokers external to the Black community will do more for them than they can do for themselves, they will remain on the margins of American society, dismayed, disgruntled and deceived. Put another way, as long as we believe that super-rich White males or their agents are our leaders, teachers, protectors, mentors, saviors and guides, and not those who come from among us, we will be the victims of these same super-rich White males or their agents (Muhammad, 1973; Jackson, 1990; Aharone, 2008).

Only when Black leaders establish internal loci of control, which can only come from having a deep, unshakable faith in themselves as divinely-gifted human beings and a deep, unshakable faith in and determination to fashion our history and heritage into instruments of liberation, will they transform not only Black America, but the entire African World. ACL-F contends that the movement to restore our lost sovereignty can only be initiated and sustained by leaders and followers blessed with internal loci of control to the point where they are irrevocably centered in the foundational beliefs, core values, and guiding principles of African people without regard to time or place.

Sankofa Installation

A second cornerstone in the temple of ACL-F is a leadership practice the Akan-speaking people of Ghana, Togo and Cote d'lvoire call Sankofa. Sankofa, or the notion that the best way to secure our future is to spend time in the present learning from our past, is well-known in the national African centered community as a wisdom principle, adinkra symbol and rationale for studying Black history. But, as a leadership-followership principle, Sankofa is largely unknown in Black leadership circles. This is a deficit we intend to correct. ACL-F passionately embraces and promotes Sankofa as a cardinal principle, an essential practice, and a critical field of inquiry for all who aspire to leadership status in African and African American communities.

As ACL-F preparation, Sankofa requires not only knowledge of the contributions of our wisest and most courageous leaders, but also the willingness to take up their struggles. In the U.S. context, for example, not only must we know of Marcus Garvey's and Queen Mother Moore's contributions to our nation building tradition, we must also embrace their nation building mission. To Sankofa Harriet Tubman means far more than simply knowing her life story, it also means embracing her life work of African rescue and redemption. Anything short of this is not fully Sankofa and certainly not ACL-F.

Restoring our lost sovereignty will also require that we restore our severed connections with our Nsamanfo (Ancestors). This brings to light a deeper dimension of Sankofa. Indigenous African cosmology teaches that our departed leaders who wisely and courageously served our people while on earth if properly invoked will continue their service once they take up residence in the spiritual realm. Reviving the ancient African science of ancestor veneration, which uses ritual to invoke the guidance and protection of our Ancestors, is an important function of ACL-F (Bridges, 2006; Thomas, 2005; Morris, 2001; Babalawo, 1999; Ephirim-Donkor, 1997; Some, 1993; Diallo and Hall, 1989).

Toward this end, Sankofa demands that African centered leaders conduct pilgrimages to the birthplaces, gravesites, institutions, kwk, of our major African American leaders to enact public and private rituals of remembrance, reaffirmation and reconnection. (4) African centered leaders and followers avidly seek the assistance of our most gifted leaders, teachers and guides on earth and in heaven (Osahon, 2009; Babalawo, 1999; Ephirimim-Donkor, 1997; Some, 1993).

As it impacts the larger Black community, Sankofa, from the standpoint of ACL-F theory, provides the basis for an African American civil religion replete with its own pantheon of divinely-inspired personages who we celebrate through music, dance, song, poetry and drama, as well as by erecting statues and by naming our children, organizations, parks, streets, building, towns, cities, kwk., in their honor (Akbar, 1996).

Illustrious figures like Zumbi and Dandara, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, David Walker, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Martin R. Delany, Booker T. Washington, Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey, Mary McLeod Bethune, Elijah and Clara Muhammad, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, Martin Luther King, Jr., Bob Marley, Kwame Ture, John Henrik Clarke, Asa Hilliard and Jacob Carruthers come instantly to mind as members of this pantheon of great souls who worked tirelessly--and in many cases gave their lives--to uplift and empower our people and thus are divinities in our African American civil religion. ACL-F's concept of Sankofa is rooted in an African centered cosmology that demands public expressions of ancestor veneration, especially for those like George Jackson and Fred Hampton who die in battle defending the race.

Maat Restoration

According to historian Oba T'Shaka (2004), it was the Twa people who brought the proto-concept of Maat from the African interior down the Nwy (Nile) River to Nubia and Kemet at least 10,000 years ago, where it was enshrined as a universal law. By way of definition, Maat is one of many African words for which there is no single English word equivalent. In fact, Kemetologist Maulana Karenga (2006) states that we need at least seven English words to form a working definition of Maat. They are: truth, justice, order, harmony, balance, reciprocity and propriety.

During the 1st, 12th, 18th and 25th dynasties, periods when Kemet reached its zenith as an African civilization, Maat was the predominant political organizing principle embraced by royalty and commoners alike. Kemet's periods of greatness always followed periods of foreign occupation, political turmoil, or economic strife. So, to re-center Kemetic society, restore public confidence, and bolster the psychological and fiscal well-being of the people, the Kemetic-Nubian ruling class would re-set the nation's sights on Maat, as recommended by their ancient texts. When this national re-focusing on truth, justice, order, harmony, and balance infused every strata of Kemetic society and reached a critical mass, it always sets in motion a whm msw, a "repetition of the birth" (or what in English is called a "renaissance") increasing peace, prosperity and happiness for all (Carruthers, 1995; Hilliard, 1997; Gadalla, 2001; Amen, 2003).

The four whm msw (wheme mesu) launched by the Kemetic ruling elite over a span of 2,000 years was each fueled not only by the restoration of Maat in public affairs, but also by the public embrace of serudj-ta, the ancient Kemetic injunction to "heal and restore the world" by repairing what is "damaged or in ruins" (Karenga, 1998).

Serudj-ta was the catalyst for massive, government-sponsored, public works campaigns to update the national infrastructure, refurbish historic monuments and re-open temple-schools. In essence, a whm msw signaled a national return to the core principles, values and beliefs of Kemet's founders that made Kemet great and prosperous in the first place (Carruthers, 1995; Hilliard, 1997).

As an emancipatory project, ACL-F actively promotes a 21st century African World Whm Msw, a global African renaissance that sets the restoration of Maat in African affairs as the top priority. Toward this end, one dimension of our modern-day Whm Msw should be hi-tech, multimedia production teams that skillful use music, dance, theatre, spoken word, comedy, graphic arts, publishing, video, cosmetics, fashion, and film to inundate African social spaces with sounds, images and fragrances of Maat, found in the customs, rituals, ceremonies, belief systems and social practices of our classical African civilizations, like Kemet, Nubia, Axum, Zimbabwe, Yoruba, Akan, kwk., that made them sovereign, prosperous, and in many cases, peaceful societies prior to their invasion, conquest and colonization by Europeans and Arabs.

ACL-F clearly overstands that a 21st century African World Whm Msw must also include serudjta or building projects, which is where our push to reconstruct kilombos comes back into focus. Kilombo reconstruction in the Americas is a practical expression of the Whm Msw played out in the Atlantic diaspora. In other words, as it concerns our 21st century global pan African renaissance, U.S.-based Africans reconstructing kilombos is a logical and necessary expression of serudj-ta in the American context. (5)

In conclusion, only by refocusing African people back on their ancestral knowledge bases will African centered leaders and followers re-center then shift the Black World back to an internal locus of control. ACL-F posits that the restoration of African American sovereignty pivots on the restoration of Maat and the practice of serudj-ta in African American affairs. The dysfunctional state of Black intra- and inter-family relationships can only be mended by the healing touch of Maat. Wherever we Whm Msw on American soil, Maat is the one essential social practice needed to undergird our efforts to transform our communities into kilombos. ACL-F contends that the restoration of Maat as a guiding tenet of Black leadership practice represent a major milestone in our movement to restore our lost sovereignty. Lastly, ACL-F holds that only by restoring Maat throughout the global African community can we end what cultural historian Marimba Ani (1994) calls the maafa, Swahili for the "great suffering" inflicted on African peoples by European and Arab invasion, conquest, colonization and plunder of African lands and the physical and mental enslavement of African people.

Johari Sita Installation

The capstone in the edifice of ACL-F is the Johari Sita (JS), a three-part, 18-step, Africancentric approach to leadership-followership training and development devised in 2000 at the Kwame Ture Leadership Institute specifically for African American leaders. (6) Johari Sita is a Swahili phrase meaning "six jewels" and it is the term we use for the processes, procedures, and practices of ACL-F.

The JS core is comprised of 18 major fields of operation, with each having a myriad of supporting fields. Johari Sita I, II, and III when combined provide a solid framework on which to construct an African centered approach to leadership and followership. Aspects of this model have been field tested around the country for the past several years via the workshop "Preparing African Youth for 21st Century Leadership and Service."

JS I--the "six jewels" in the crown of sovereignty--is an end goal and measuring rod of ACL-F practice. Organizing African people to exercise sovereign control over the production, distribution and consumption of their JS I--their six basic survival needs--their food, clothing, shelter, education, health care, and self-defense--is the first task and first goal of ACL-F. Twenty-first century African American sovereignty begins with Black people exercising total control over their JS I. The full implementation of JS I, however, requires constructing modern-day versions of Maroon kilombos (which are Nkrumah's "liberated zones") organized around educational centers equipped to train village residents to effectively enact JS I. Incorporating British anthropologist Robin Dunbar's (1992) ground-breaking research on community building, each of our 21st century kilombos would serve no more than 150 people. These small, self-sustaining, intentional communities are the ideal sites for JS I installation. According to our calculations, we would need 266,667 kilombos each serving 150 people to restore JS I level sovereignty to the 40 million Africans living in the United States.

JS II is the "six jewels" of ACL-F transformation. It is the six-stage developmental sequence needed to shift Black loci of control from external to internal and then raise-up sovereignty-seeking leaders and followers. ACL-F is possible only for Africans who escape from the mental prison of conceptual incarceration and slip the soft chains of comfortable captivity to become intellectual maroons spreading the Whm Msw by restoring Maat thereby ending the maafa. JS II sets the developmental process and pinpoints the life mission of African centered leaders and followers. Only African centered leaders and followers who reach intellectual maroon status have the will and the skill to establish a kilombo and implement JS I.

JS III is the "six jewels" of ACL-F training, development and practice. It is the six-part training regimen and primary database prospective African centered leaders and followers engage to move through JS II. As the core curriculum basic to intellectual maroon functioning, JS III is ACL-F in practice. JS III's six skill sets (curriculum fields) are: Sankofa (Historical Connectedness), lb (Data Collection, Analysis & Exchange), Njia (Victorious Thinking), Dwt (Paradigm Shifting), Harambee (Team Building) and Ndaba (Kilombo-Taifa Reconstruction). JS III provides prospective African centered leaders and followers six stepping stones across the mine fields surrounding JS II.

By mastering each of JS III's six fields of inquiry, African centered leaders and their followers prepare for the implementation of JS I. Said better, JS III's six-stage curriculum allows African centered leaders and followers to progress thru JS II toward JS I implementation. As a triad, JS I, II and III represent the "Three Pillars of ACL-F" upholding the temple of Black sovereignty.


"Old wisdom brings new power."

--Omuteko Gwamaziima Charter School

After providing a rationale for connecting leadership and followership and then offering a working definition of African centeredness, this paper outlined four processes--Sovereignty--Maat restoration and Sankofa--Johari Sita installation--salient to the practice of African centered leadership-followership (ACL-F). Developed at the Kwame Ture Leadership Institute in 2000 as an ethnic group specific (African American) approach to leadership theory and practice, ACL-F establishes a framework for broadening Black leadership practice. And by establishing clearly-defined evaluative criteria, ACL-F provides a framework for deepening our critique of Black leaders and their organizations.

ACL-F theory contends that only by shifting from an external to an internal locus of control can our current Black leadership evolve into an African centered leadership. Next, ACL-F theory holds that the one true measure of Black progress (and Black leadership) is on-going movement toward restoring Black sovereignty in all areas of life critical to human functioning beginning with JS I. If this isn't taking place, nothing else Black leaders achieve matters. Further, ACL-F theory posits that the restoration of sovereignty and Maat are central to any effort to empower African communities in the United States or abroad. Finally, unlike mainstream Black leadership-followership models, ACL-F is proactive, meaning it has clearly-defined end goals--Sovereignty--Maat restoration and a clearly-defined strategy to achieve it--Sankofa--Johari Sita (JS) installation and thus it is impervious to ruling class manipulation.

Because they are intellectual maroons, African centered leaders and followers do not react in the prescribed manner or along conventional lines. (7) Their internal loci of control allows them to sidestep the pitfalls of protest politics and financial dependency, for example, that ensnare mainstream Black leadership limiting their practice to organizing endless community forums, press conferences and focus groups, punctuated by an occasional meeting with the mayor, march on city hall, or rally on the courthouse steps. Our mainstream, middle class, status quo-bound, Black leadership typified by organizations like the NAACP, the National Urban League, and the Congressional Black Caucus is the classic example of an African community governed by its external locus of control.

Sovereignty and Maat are projects of restoration while Sankofa and Johari Sita are projects of installation. Sankofa, the traditional Akan maxim that it is appropriate and necessary to reach back to one's ancestral cultures for direction and example, is a foundational tenet and constant practice central to ACL-F theory and praxis. Further, by centering Black leadership on sovereignty via kilombo reconstruction, JS I, II, and III provide the basis for a sea change in Black American leadership practice.

Finally, like Jazz, which is the perfect metaphor for ACL-F practice, ACL-F is a dynamic, democratic, collaborative enterprise impossible to create in a strict hierarchical or dictatorial organizational setting. (8) One of the most instructive leadership models in ACL-F theory was perfected by Miles Davis (1989), the great Jazz trumpeter, innovator and trendsetter. What made Miles' leadership style exemplary was not just his skill at selecting brilliant sidemen (followers) like John Coltrane, Herbie Hancock and Julian "Cannonball" Adderly, it was his willingness to give them the creative space to express their genius. Miles, the true servant leaders, even encouraged his band members (followers) to become leaders of their own bands. ACL-F at its best--like Jazz--reates spaces for followers to not only hone their leadership skills, but become leaders in their own right. This is the organizational milieu African centered leaders seek to co-create with their followers and supporters because this is the surest route to restoring our lost sovereignty.

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* kwk is an abbreviation of the Swahili katha wa katha meaning "and so forth" used in place of the Latin etc.

([dagger]) ACL-F propriety demands that our kilombo-taifa building efforts be sanctioned and supported by the Native American peoples, the original and legitimate owners of this country.

(1) In Spanish America, Maroons were called palenqueros and in Portuguese Brazil, quilombolas. See M. Oliveira. (2005). Brazil: Waiting for their land of freedom, and

(2) Ilka Leite notes that the word "kilombo" (quilombo) is used in present-day Brazil by political, educational and cultural elites as well as the general public to mean "transformation". See I. Leite (2007). "The Transhistorical, Juridical-Formal, and Post-Utopian Quilombo." Manchester, England: University of Manchester

(3) It was instructive to discover that after the fall of Palmares in 1696, Portuguese plantation owners created a mixed-race class of professional Maroon hunters called capit es-do-mato or "bush captains". These men specialized in finding and destroying kilombos and re-enslaving Maroons (Reis, 2002, p. 3).

(4) Over the past 35-40 years, public ancestral commemorations have been taking place sporadically throughout the national African American community. To its credit in 2009, the Houston, Texas chapter of the National Black United Front (NBUF) will conduct its 12th annual day-long ancestor commemoration called "Sankofa: Caravan to the Ancestors" held every October at Galveston Beach

(5) In 2007, German anthropologist Ilka Leite reported the existence of more than 3,000 kilombos in Brazil. Ibid., p.6.

(6) See my introduction to ACL-F entitled "The Johari Sita: A Weapon in the War to Liberate the African Mind" Pittsburgh: KTLI, 2000 for an in-depth discussion of the Johari Sita leadership-followership training and development philosophy and program. Also, see Leon Prieto's essay "A Framework for Designing and Evaluating a Pan African Leadership Development Program" for a thoughtful discussion of the challenges of establishing personnel exchange programs between continental African organizations and their counterparts in the West Indies. Contact Mr. Prieto at for a copy of his essay.

(7) See my essay "Intellectual Maroons: Architects of African Sovereignty" published in the (Vol. 2, No 5) edition of The Journal of Pan African Studies http://www. for a detailed discussion of the role and function of intellectual maroons in the restoration of African American sovereignty.

(8) Max Dupree (1992) was the first leadership theorist to consider the process of Jazz production worthy of emulation by corporate managers in pursuit of productivity and profit. See Leadership Jazz for an in-depth discussion of Dupree's insights. ACL-F, however, interprets the Jazz creation process within the context of the servant leader-mentor tradition found in African culture and in Jazz and Blues transmission. Further, we believe that the creative genius Black people tap to create Blues, Jazz and hip hop is transferable to other realms of human activity, like kilombo-taifa reconstruction, for example. ACL-F, in essence, seeks to do for the science of Black American leadership what W.C. Handy, Duke Ellington and Afrika Bambaataa did for the science of Black American music.


Uhura Hotep, Ed.D.

Kwame Ture Leadership Institute,
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Author:Hotep, Uhura
Publication:Journal of Pan African Studies
Date:Mar 15, 2010
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